Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Fines Signal Tougher HIPAA Enforcement

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Fines Signal Tougher HIPAA Enforcement

Article excerpt

Hospitals and hospitalists should expect more aggressive enforcement of protected health information regulations following a $1 million settlement paid by Massachusetts General Physicians Organization Inc. over documents on 192 patients left on the subway by a MassGen employee, a top hospi-talist says.

The payment--part of an agreement between Mass-Gen and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department over "potential violations" of HIPAA rules--came at the same time as HHS issued its first civil money penalty for violations of the privacy act. The $4.3 million civil money penalty involved Cignet Health Care, a Maryland-based clinic, which HHS found had violated 41 patients' rights by failing to provide them with access to their own medical records.

Dr. Chad Whelan, director of the division of hospital medicine at Loyola University Chicago, Maywood, said the two high-dollar enforcement moves by HHS indicate more aggressive enforcement of HIPAA is coming.

"Given the large fines and the high-profile institution [MassGen] affected, it sure seems like they are sending a message," he said in an interview. "I would fully expect more stringent enforcement in the coming years, and we will likely see more payouts."

To safeguard themselves, physicians and hospitals need to take a hard look at their policies regarding electronic storage and transmission of protected health information across multiple electronic devices, especially smartphones and tablet-style electronic devices, Dr. Whelan said.

"The beautiful thing about computers, smartphones, and electronic medical records is that [they make it] amazingly easy to store, access, and share information," he said. "The terrifying thing about computers, smartphones and electronic medical records is that [they make it] amazingly easy to store, access, and share information.

"Medical centers and hospitalists must be aware of this tension between improving care through information access and sharing and the risk to confidentiality through easier information access and sharing. These settlements are the first shot across the bow to all of us that HHS is certainly taking a long, hard look at this balance," Dr. …

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